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Insight/ Online Media

Strength In Numbers: Research Reveals Power Of Social Voice


by Marc Vermut
VP Strategy

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Article Highlights:

  • Social voice is a major sales driver in both direct and indirect ways.
  • Social voice accounted for 10 percent to 54 percent of total marketing impact for the brands studied.
  • Social voice, both online and offline, also drives consumer online searches in a big way.

“Social voice,” or word-of-mouth (WOM), is one of the most powerful and disruptive forces in marketing. And although it has long been a CMO’s best friend, the friendship is tinged with tension since the impact of social voice has been difficult to measure.

But that’s now changing. New research we conducted in partnership with WOM research and consulting firm The KellerFay Group quantifies how social voice influences consumer decisions, how it affects online searches–and ultimately its impact on sales and brand perception.  

The results of this research offer important insights for CMOs as social voice continues to dominate our attention and major brands invest more time and money in digital marketing and social media. Quite simply, we believe that the social media explosion has changed the game for major brands, making social voice measurement must-know information for CMOs.

Results of our research were clear and boil down to this: Social voice is a major sales driver in both direct and indirect ways. It significantly amplifies your messages as people talk about or share them via social media and offline conversations.

Before going further, however, let’s clarify what social voice means. For this research, we defined it as “online and offline (face-to-face and voice-to-voice) brand mentions and conversations that occur among consumers.” Rather simple.

What’s not so simple, however, is putting numbers to how (or whether) your spending boosts social voice, how that generates sales, and where it fits in your media-mix models. With this information in hand, you can make better choices of how and where to spend your money–and deliver clearer proof points to your CEO, CFO, board, and others.

But a word of caution: This is not a digital-only dilemma. It’s vital that marketing teams also grasp the interplay between digital and traditional media in determining social voice, and how all drivers converge to influence consumer decision-making.

To tease out the insights CMOs are looking for in this area, we compiled and modeled huge amounts of multiyear data to find answers to the social voice question. This included media ad spend, nonmedia marketing spend (events, PR, etc.), online/offline WOM brand mentions, Facebook metrics, Google search activity, and Web site traffic, among others.

We also controlled for external factors, such as the economy, competitor activity, seasonality, and even the weather, while our researchers focused on brands across several major categories, including beverages, financial services, and autos.

WOM’s Share Of Total Marketing Impact
When you add it all up (and we did), meta-analysis shows that social voice accounted for anywhere from 10 percent to 54 percent of total marketing impact for the brands studied. Investment firms were at the high end at 54 percent, followed by automotive (27 percent), beverages (25 percent), and brokerage firms (10 percent). Of course, your particular mileage may vary.

For CMOs, this confirms that social voice is a key component in consumer decision-making that can be measured–and can’t be ignored. Analysis shows clear connections between awareness, media-driven interest, consideration, and–ultimately–sales.

CMOs can use these findings as ammo to take to other ends of the C-suite. One message, for example, is that social voice has a measurable and direct impact on sales and other financial outcomes, and thus deserves a place in the analytics discussion. CFOs, in particular, can relate to the research findings showing that a 10 percent boost in social voice (or WOM) produced a sales lift of from 0.2 percent to 1.5 percent for the brands studied. Those are clear connections to business outcomes.

Key Takeaways For Marketing Leaders
The research findings offer valuable guidance that can help CMOs and other marketing leaders succeed. First off, social voice clearly counts–and, in many cases, counts big-time–in consumer choice and sales results. It’s something you must consider when analyzing the impact of your marketing efforts and deciding where to spend your budget. The biggest bang for your brand marketing bucks occurs online. The increase in online social media mentions that resulted from marketing efforts was more than double the increase in offline WOM.

The research quantified the impact of spending changes on social voice. According to our analysis, a 10 percent bump in spending boosts online WOM from 1 percent to 5 percent. A similar 10 percent increase in marketing spend offline increased WOM in a range of 0.2 percent to 1.0 percent. Importantly, however, a wide range of media, including TV, radio, out-of-home, online display, paid search, magazines, and newspapers, all had a positive impact on online WOM.

Another key CMO takeaway is that social voice (both online and offline) also drives consumer online searches in a big way. Research results show that social voice can generate nearly as much organic search traffic for your brand as traditional marketing activities do on their own. That insight alone can help boost your effectiveness.

Here’s what you can expect: Every 10 percent increase in social voice produces a 0.5 percent to 1.6 percent increase in online search activity.

Adjusting Keyword Tactics
Given this level of impact on organic search, CMOs should monitor and invest in keywords specifically associated with social voice brand mentions. And your calls to action should encourage social voice through sharing and conversations, as well as driving purchases. Both paths lead to better results for your bottom line.

Marketing leaders should also consider developing marketing campaigns that specifically incorporate the benefits of social voice. One basic way to do that is by coordinating your SEM and SEO efforts with the expected lift in search you’ll get from advertising, sharing, and conversations.

Ultimately, by understanding the role of social voice, marketers can make more accurate ROI estimates of paid, earned, and owned media, which can, in turn, better inform marketing investment allocations.

About Marc Vermut

As MarketShare’s VP of Strategy, Marc Vermut delivers complex demand response models that measure marketing’s bottom-line impact via a SaaS platform that helps major corporations optimize marketing plans and goals.